Skip to main content

Full text of "The Science Of Copenhagen"

See other formats


V 


Issue 1 I February 2010 


The Oxford Left Review 


Samuel Burt 
Peter Tatchell 
Stuart White 
Cailean Gallagher 
Matthew Kennedy 
]eremy Cliff e 
Brian Melican 
Christopher Jackson 
George Irvin 
Kaihsu Tai 
Sophie Lewis 
Matthew Kennedy 
Roberta Klimt 
Noel Hatch 


Equality and Republican Ideals 
Voter Reform and the Left 
An End to Labourism 
Call to Scottish Labour 
The Putney Debates 
A Lourth Way for Labour? 
Germany's Lragmented Left 
The Return of Keynes 
Time for a Tobin Tax 
The Science of Copenhagen 
COP15 - Activist's Perspective 
Zizek Review 
Bennett Review 
Today's Lost Generation 


The science of Copenhagen 


Kaihsu Tai 

I n the last few months the media reported intensively on the Copenhagen summit 
on climate change, corresponding to the intense civil-society attention given to 
it over the whole of 2009. This briefing sets out (from the limited vantage point of 
its author) the science underlying the negotiations at COP15, and an assessment of 
its outcome. It concludes that despite the generally disappointing and despondent 
tone after the summit, there are a few signs of hope for the persistent campaigners. 

The first half of December 2009 saw the Copenhagen summit on climate change. Of- 
ficially, this was the 15th session of the Conference of Parties (COP15) 1 to the United 
Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) 2 , a process which 
started in 1992. An earlier UNFCCC attempt to coordinate the worldwide actions 
against climate change on an intergovernmental level was the Kyoto Protocol of 
1997. COP15 aimed to reach agreement on what is to come after the Kyoto Protocol 
expires in 2012. Because its high profile attracted the attendance of many heads of 
governments, COP15 was often reported in the media as the Copenhagen summit. 

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 3 is a group of scientists set 
up by the governments to advise on the science of climate change. Reading the lat- 
est assessment report of 2007 from the IPCC, augmented with other trusted sources 
for updates, I understand that to limit the most dangerous effects of climate change 
(such as large sea-level rise and more-intense extreme weather events), the global 
average temperature rise needs to be limited to within 2°C from pre-industrial lev- 
els. This in turn requires controlling the concentration of greenhouse gases in the 
atmosphere to within 350 parts per million carbon dioxide equivalent (at the mo- 
ment it is a bit above 380 ppm). These numbers we cannot directly control. What we 
can control are the emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. These 
we can reduce, mainly by cutting down the use of fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural 
gas), but also by other methods of mitigation, such as slowing down deforestation. 

In the UNFCCC, the governments of the world, taking into account the world history 
of industrialization and differing levels of development, recognized that all countries 
have ''common but differentiated responsibilities" in facing the challenge of climate 
change. From this, the expectation is for rich countries to cut emissions more drastical- 
ly than poorer countries. Also, financial help would be available to help poor countries 
leapfrog over carbon-intensive modes of development. Finally, vulnerable countries 
already seeing effects of climate change (such as Tuvalu, Kiribati, and Bangladesh, 
now losing land to the rising sea) would have funding to adapt to the new situation. 
1 http://en.copl5.dk/ 

2 http://unfccc.int/ 

3 http://www.ipcc.ch/ 


Tai 


Most participants entered Copenhagen hoping for an ambitious, fair, and legally- 
binding agreement to come out of COP15. This never happened. The European 
Union offered to increase its emissions cut from 20 % to 30 % by 2020 from 1990 
levels if a deal could be reached, but appeared to have held this card high up its 
sleeve. Perhaps the United States of America offered too many billions of dol- 
lars but too little a cut (only 4 % by 2020 on 1990 baseline; the numbers sounded 
bigger with baseline massaged). Perhaps vulnerable countries like the Maldives 
overplayed their hands by demanding that 1.5°C rather than 2°C be the target. 
China definitely drove a hard bargain. Denmark was not the best moderator, and 
excluded civil-society groups from the discussion halfway through the confer- 
ence. But finger-pointing aside, the outcome was that there was no legally-bind- 
ing deal. Instead there was a political agreement, the Copenhagen Accord; and 
the world is left to try again at COP16 in Mexico, November /December 2010. 

What next? There is no deal at Copenhagen, so any emissions cuts will have to 
be unilateral for the moment. Appendix I of the Copenhagen Accord invites each 
nation to enter its emissions cut target for 2020. The deadline to fill out this form 
was 31 January 2010. During COP15, the Maldives and Costa Rica offered 100 
% cuts: they aim to be zero-emissions countries by the end of the decade. Clos- 
er to home, on one (devolved) hand we have Scotland committing itself to a le- 
gally-binding 42 % cut by 20 20 4 ; on the other (supranational) hand, the Europe- 
an Union takes the absence of a global pact as an excuse to retreat to a feeble 20 
% cut by 2020. The UK- wide Climate Change Act 2008 provides for a target of 
80 % cut by 2050 in section 1(1); the interim target for 2020 is yet to be decided. 

Since the end of the Copenhagen summit, I have written to climate and energy minis- 
ter Ed Miliband, asking him to write down "40 % cut by 2020, with no overseas carbon 
offsets" next to Britain's name, and to ask other EU countries to do the same. I have 
also written similarly to my MP, my Members of the European Parliament, and some 
peers in the House of Lords. I thought I was alone when presenter Stephen Sackur of 
BBC Radio 4's Listeners Look Ahead dismissed my suggestion as politically unlikely. 

I was wrong. A week later. Lord (Anthony) Giddens replied: "those of us con- 
cerned with climate change are working hard to influence the government in 
the direction you mention for the proposals they will enter for the end of Janu- 
ary in the follow up to Copenhagen." Another week thereafter. Stop Climate 
Chaos Coalition started a Twitter petition addressed to the Prime Minister with 
this same aim. 5 Commitments now to ambitious unilateral cuts offer us the best 
hope for a legally-binding agreement in Mexico by the end of the year. Remember, 
this is about the survival of the human species. Thus we might keep hope alive. 

Dr Kaihsu Tai is a member of Saint Cross College. He recently started studying European 
Law a fter a decade of research in Biochemisiry. 

4 Section 2(1) Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009 

5 http://act.ly/llw 


The Oxford Left Review is the journal of Compass Oxford. 
Compass Oxford is the campus group of the think-tank Compass active 

within Oxford University. 


compassoxford@googlemail.com 

compassoxford.wordpress.com 

compassoxford.wordpress.com/olr